The Things We Leave Behind

With the first two weeks coming to an end, I wanted to discuss one of the epigraphs that really stood out to me. Said epigraph is from a 1993 Nobel Lecture from Toni Morrison in which she said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” While I did not understand this statement at first, I believe I have managed to reach a conclusion as to what Morrison is trying to communicate.

As we have discussed in class, language is powerful. Oftentimes we as human beings underestimate, or ignore the deeper, implicit levels to the language we use every day. Words have history, context, connotations, and can say so much about a culture and what it values. I believe that Morrison is saying that words and the way we use them are immortal. They hold weight and significance long after we are gone, something reflected in numerous works of African American literature.

For example, many of the works we have discussed in class deal extensively with the concept of repetition in black culture, something that James A. Snead discusses in his essay On Repetition in Black Culture. In this essay, Snead discusses how repetition in African American art, literature, and music reflects cultural attitudes and understandings of reality. This is most noticeable when Snead claims, “Black culture highlights the observance of such repetition often in homage to an original generative instance or act.” What makes Snead’s statement significant is that it illustrates how the use of words in black culture reflect this outlook. The world is often cyclical and repetitive, which is thus reflected in the words used by black artists. The words here are powerful because they echo this greater understanding of reality. While many of these artists might be dead, their words are still here.

But how does this epigraphy tie into my goals for this class? Morrison’s epigraph has pushed me to think about the greater implications of what myself and others say. As this class goes on, I want to focus in on how I use language, as well as the different ways language can be applied to the world around us. I believe that approaching this class from such a lens will help expand my perspective and gain a greater understanding of the course material.

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